There’s a reason Ashley Fant exudes radiant contentment. Her childhood dream has become her career. Fit, trim, and energetic at 39, she is a mother, horse trainer, rider, equestrian coach, and entrepreneur. “I would not be who I am without horses,” she says.

She runs Ashley Fant Show Stables in Collierville, serving hunter and jumper riders at all levels. She’s there in the barn getting her boots muddy every day. “Equestrianship is a very active lifestyle from caring for the horses to tacking up and riding,” Ashley explains.

The benefits of riding go beyond the physical though. “The bond between horse and rider does a lot emotionally and spiritually,” she says. “They’re partners. Every time a rider and a horse work together, both learn new things.”

According to Ashley, riding is a lot more than just sitting down on the horse and holding on. You have to develop heightened control over your body from your posture to the angle of your feet and subtle hand movements. “Everything you do affects your horse,” she says.

A big part of riding is strength and balance. “Equestrian training quickly makes you aware of asymmetry in your body,” she says. Equestrianship also builds coordination, suppleness, and agility. “Every rider needs to be a good ‘dancer partner’ for their horse.”

Ashley says that after a few months of riding, students often notice their clothes look and fit better. “Good posture makes a person stronger, and it helps them look a lot fitter, too!” She sees a lot of improvement in the young riders, who would otherwise be bent over a phone or laptop.

It was at age 10 when Ashley herself fell in love with horses. A field trip brought her class to a farm outside her native New Orleans. The owner had a horse and let each kid take a turn riding. Ashley felt immediately at home in a saddle. Her parents encouraged her to pursue riding lessons, and she had to start working early on in order to supplement the expense. “Most people who grow up to become professional equestrians have to do that,” she says. A little while after Ashley graduated college, she found full-time work at a riding stable, and then nine years later, she was able to open her own barn.

“Riding horses is immensely satisfying, but it’s not easy,” she says. Ashley views the inherent challenges in horsemanship as character-building opportunities. She loves to see the growth in her students as well.

“My students are responsible for the equipment, the horse, and the facility. Our standards are very high. It’s fun to see a child who wouldn’t pick up their clothes turn into one who will muck out a barn without being asked.” Riding is also a great way to gain fortitude and self-confidence. “It’s not unusual for a shy student to start excelling in other areas like theater or public speaking after just a year of riding lessons.” She says that adults often come away with a heightened ability to pick up other people’s nonverbal communication as a byproduct of working with a horse.

Horseback riding isn’t the easiest sport to get into. Ashley reiterates that she didn’t come from a wealthy family. “Equestrianship isn’t as cost-prohibitive as people think. Like any other investment, it requires focus, prioritization, and a little sacrifice. If someone is determined to ride, there is always a way to work it out.” Another preconception Ashley wants to change is the notion that horseback riding has to start when you’re young. “It’s never too late to start riding,” she says. “You can find that spark at any age.”

Clearly, Ashley still has that spark when it comes to her career. “I love what I do,” she says. “And I’m grateful every day to be able to do it!”

By Caroline Sposto

Photo by Tindall Stephens